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The first tea plants known were believed to be grown in Yunnan Province in southern China. From there they spread to other parts of Asia that had the perfect kinds of weather and soil conditions. The habit of drinking tea is thought to have originated in China together with the emperor Shen Nong. Regarded as an iconoclast of Chinese medicine, he introduced the tea plant to individuals around the year 2700 B.C.

The classic on Chinese Tea

Cha jing (The Book of Tea), written by the scholar Lu Yu in A.D. 760, recounts Shen Nong’s attempts to discover the medicinal potency of more than three hundred varieties of roots, grass, and tree barks. Legend has it that he would try them all on himself and if he ingested something poisonous he’d cleanse himself by ingesting tea leaves.

It appears sure that tea leaves were originally eaten as a medication long before tea became a favorite drink. In actuality, there are still some mountain tribes in southern China, Thailand, and northern Myanmar that still eat pickled tea leaves, and until recent times were they aware that a drink could be brewed by the exact leaves!

Based on Kouga, the early dictionary composed during the Later Han dynasty (A.D. 25-220), people in Sichuan Province of western China, compressed steamed leaves to hard bricks to help maintain the quality of the tea over a larger period (very handy when transporting, also ). When producing a drink they would season the mix with cebola or ginger. However, this early concoction wouldn’t qualify as a traditional beverage in the normal sense because its intended use was medicinal.

The Three Kingdoms

During the Three Kingdoms period (221-65), the prevalence of tea saw a rapid growth. One cause for this was that the widening growth in the tradition of Buddhism, which was starting to gain a larger following. Buddhism prohibits the drinking of alcohol and so that boosted the demand for tea.

During the Sui dynasty (581-618), the habit of drinking tea, formerly restricted to the aristocracy and Buddhist monks, began to filter through to other classes. In the mid-eighth century, tea shops appeared, and slowly tea became an indispensable beverage for normal city-dwellers.

It was about this time that Lu Yu, who arrived from the tea making center of Hubei Province, wrote his treatise on tea. The array of Yu’s work is remarkable. It covers the origins, methods of plant cultivation, the kinds of utensils used, the most effective ways to prepare and drink tea, and tales regarding tea and tea-growing. His expansive compendium of advice spanned three amounts, starting with the propitious line:”There are great luck trees from the south that are beneficial to an individual’s health.” When printed the book met with great acclaim and is still looked upon now as a bible of sorts concerning tea.

Tea arrived in Japan from China

It had been introduced by Japanese Buddhist monks who followed the specific representatives sent to China from the early Heian period (794-1185). Among the monks who traveled to China were Saicho (767-822), Kukai (774-835), and Eichu (743-816). The first record of this habit of tea-drinking in Japan appeared in Nihon koki (Notes on Japan), compiled in the Heian period. Eichu, a priest in the temple of Bonshakuji at Omi, Aichi Prefecture, returned to China in 815. The Nihon koki records that when Emperor Saga (predominate, 809-23) visited Omi, Eichu encouraged him to his temple and served him sencha, suggesting that drinking tea, a popular pastime in Tang times, had become fashionable in Japan’s intellectual circles. Roun-shu, an anthology of Chinese poetry written in Japanese in 814, also mentions tea-tasting.

Compressed Tea

At that moment, tea probably came in the kind of hard bricks, according to Lu Yu. Compressed into a brick form into a brick shape, tea wasn’t only easy to transport but also held up better during the long voyage from China. This was probably the sort of tea brought to Japan, although leaf tea was also utilised in China at the time. The brick was warmed over a fire and then a part was broken off by hand or shaved off with a knife. The shavings were ground using a mortar into a powder, which was added to a bowl of warm water and brewed then was served in a bowl.

Emperor Saga tried to promote the spread of tea by demanding states in the Kinki area around Kyoto to increase the plant. He established tea gardens in 1 district of Kyoto, and began growing and processing it for the use of doctors attached to the court. This imperial tea, however, found use mostly in rituals performed by the aristocracy; the drink had yet to become a product for consumption by the common individuals.

Ordinary Japanese only started to drink tea much later, after Eisai (1141-1215), the founder of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, brought back a new sort of seedling from Sung-dynasty China. With it he introduced a new method of drinking tea that was called the”matcha style.” Eisai encouraged the cultivation of tea trees, along with his Kissa yojoki (Health Benefits of Tea) tied tea-drinking to longevity and started tea in Japan on a large scale.